Police, Discipline, and Zero Tolerance in Urban Classrooms

Have you ever thought about whether police in school hallways is a good idea or not?

I strongly recommend this review by James Boutin , a former DCPS teacher, about a book on just this topic. I won’t pretend that I handled interactions regarding student discipline well in every case. But things are getting even worse these days in the poorer schools with browner student populations. Teachers find that they lose their authority to police officers and security guards, and that incidents that used to be handled inside the school system now become judicial matters; as a result, many kids end up with a criminal record for defying authority in the only way that they know how to do it. For example: wearing hats inside the building.

A quote from James’ review:

Consider a brief example (Police in the Hallways provides many more). Nolan notes that students identify their apparel as fundamental to their self-expression of identity. (One student compares the DOE requirement that no hats be worn in school to requiring adults to walk around with no shoes.) Those who disobey this policy (one that Nolan feels has little reasoning to justify it) by wearing hats are simultaneously engaging in an act of self-expression AND opposition to institutional rules they view as illegitimate. Furthermore, by refusing to remove one’s hat for a teacher or security agent, students potentially gain favor with peers for proving that they’re not “a punk” AND continuing to resist illegitimate authority. Thus students can carve out a modicum of control in an institution that constantly attempts to deprive them of it.

Highly punitive zero tolerance policies and students’ reactions to them have had the effect of repositioning some schools as institutions of control rather than learning, and the impact is disproportionately harmful for poor and minority school children. Nolan writes, “It is a moral outrage that we would take such punitive stand in matters of urban school discipline when so little is offered to urban schools.” Rather than relying on increasingly harsh consequences as our only recourse for students in schools who don’t conform to our expectations, Nolan calls for a reevaluation both of the policies we impose on low-income schools and also of our responses when students and communities resist them. Importantly, such a reevaluation must be done in light of a nuanced and holistic understanding of the challenges people living in urban poverty in the United States in the early 21st century are facing – e.g. lack of available legal employment, the influence of drugs and gangs, and the highly transient nature of families who live there.

It reminds me of two other books that I am also reading: Slavery By Another Name, and The New Jim Crow. More on those later, but I strongly recommend both of those books, too.

Published in: on July 29, 2012 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Was JFK such a wonderful president?

I used to idolize Jack Kennedy. I recall spending all night standing in long, long lines that wound their somber ways around half of Capitol Hill, waiting to pass by his coffin and pay my respects, after his assassination. I was 13 and in junior high school; dawn’s early light was beginning to show when we left after viewing the funeral bier.

A bit later, I remember reading some mild criticism of the Kennedy family during the 1960s and being appalled.

Still later, as I moved to the left during the Vietnam War, I realized that JFK had played a major role in continuing to escalate that unjustified, colonial, and, yes, imperialist war. Reading Sy Hersch’s “The Dark Side of Camelot” indicated that — if Hersch was right (and there were those who cast doubt on some of his claims) —  JFK was a serious sex addict.

A more recent article in the Atlantic indicates that Hersch was essentially right. JFK was not only an exploitive sleazeball as far as women were concerned, he was an incredibly reckless sleazeball. I mean, trying to invade Cuba for the crime of throwing out the Mob-corrupted Batista regime and adhering to socialism and communism? Threatening to blow up the whole world over that? Having the same mistress as one of the heads of the Mafia? Just think of the opportunities for blackmail if someone had wanted to do so. And supposedly only homosexuals were liable to get into compromising situations like that. (Of course, just about all of our presidents have had mistresses and so on, while proclaiming their love for monogamy; but for quantity, JFK seems to have beat them all.)

You can read the Atlantic  article about Jackie Bovier Kennedy Onassis, and its ramifications to JFK,  here. 

I’m also reading the New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. She points out that there was no real reason for the ‘War on Drugs’ other than providing an excuse for harrassing, arresting, stigmatizing, and excluding black males. There was no epidemic of drugs when it was begun under Reagan, or under Bush 1. Funny that the crack epidemic had origins similar to the heroin epidemic of the 1960s: deliberate and successful attempts at squashing a movement and attacking African-Americans. I recommend reading also The Politics of Heroin. Alexander points out that Clinton vastly expanded the imprisonment of blacks during the War on Drugs.

Thing is, most of the arrests and convictions and withdrawal of all civil rights are for marijuana — a drug which has never by itself caused a single fatality. Unlike alcohol, tobacco or any of the painkillers we take when we suffer serious injuries or are undergoing surgery. People who get addicted to those painkillers and things like methamphetamine need medical and psychological help, not incarceration and removal of all of their civil rights. They can’t live in rent-assisted or public housing; can’t collect welfare, can’t vote, can’t take out student loans or apply for post-secondary grants, and, most likely, can’t get a job unless they lie on their application — and when they are found out, are likely to be jailed again. I mean, where are they supposed to live?

And it’s all so racist. None of those horrible things happen to white folks who do lines of cocaine or smoke a little weed – or lots of it. Did Rush Limbaugh get put away for five consecutive 30-year sentences, as would have occurred had a black man been caught doing what he did with all that oxycodone? Of course not. Do they use helicopters and SWAT teams to shine lights into the windows, and break down the doors of country clubs, where kids who just won a soccer or lacrosse game light up or snort their joy in victory? Of course not.

Actually, I say, legalize all the recreational drugs, and provide real medical help and psychological assistance if they get addicted to the ‘hard’ stuff like meth, coke, oxycodone, opium, or heroin. Give them other drugs that will weaken their addictive urges so they can wean themselves. Stop destroying people’s lives here in the US, south of the border in Mexico, and so on. Stop treating every Black male as a criminal. Eliminate the whole “stop and frisk” business. Bring back our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Alexander points out that as a nation, instead of spending money to help the poor in general, and African-American poor in particular, we spend vast sums of money locking them up. What’s more, police departments not only get lots of military-grade weaponry for free, they are bribed by the Federal government to go along with these police-state tactics, and they get to keep about 80% of the money and valuables that they seize.

Some democracy. It really is as bad as Jim Crow — and if you don’t know how bad that was, then read Slavery by Another Name.

We have had the worst presidents that money can buy — Republican, Democratic, doesn’t really matter.

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 7:18 pm  Comments (1)  
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